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Copywriters on the rack #28: Dave Harland

Hello and welcome to Copywriters on the Rack. The straps? Oh, they’re for your comfort. Now relax and here we go…

Who are you and what do you do to pay the bills?

I’m Dave Harland. Copywriter and messabouter with massive fingers. I help businesses and brands speak to people with more personality, via the medium of the alphabet.

Massive fingers, eh? Good job I bought XXL thumbscrews. Right, so what was your career path to get to where you are now?

I did a journalism degree where I learnt how to write properly. Then I got a job as editor of a company’s customer magazine, and after 5 years there, I started writing the direct response copy for them too. I was there for 10 years before going freelance. That was 7 years ago.

I mentioned “years” a bit too much just then didn’t I? Sounds like a riddle. “If Dave made a 74 mile round trip to a client’s office, travelling at 8.6 miles an hour on the back of a donkey, what would the temperature be in Kuala Lumpur?”

Err… yes Dave. Have some more of this Sodium Pentothal and tell me what the best thing is about your job.

Getting paid for being silly.

Nice. What’s the worst?

There’s no off-switch. It’s a curse. We could be having a perfectly lovely family day at the zoo and if I see a weird sign talking about how the chimpanzees understand chess or something, I’ll have my phone out taking notes in the hope that the crazy fact will spark an idea at some point.

How do you fill the gaps when you’re not doing the day job?

My son’s 18 months old. So when I’m not working, I’m usually trying to make him laugh. I support Liverpool FC and watch them whenever I can. And me and my wife love travelling… except now we have to do it with about four tonnes of baby gear. All good fun. Oh yeah, I also play online speed Scrabble.

Now we’ve got the formalities out of the way, let’s go rogue:

What’s the stupidest thing you did as a teenager?

Nothing too dumb, because I was a bit of a swot at school. But I remember when I was in 6th form, we’d go out drinking in Liverpool every Saturday night, and on the Sunday, me and my best mate would go for a hangover fry up at a greasy spoon.

One time, we’d just sat down at the table and some delicate sparrow of an old woman brushed past the back of my chair, when I heard a load of pound coins hitting the floor behind me. “Ahh she’s dropped her money”, I thought. So I stood up, picked up all the money and handed it to her. About eight or nine quid. And I remember her big smile as her tiny see-through hands clasped mine with a warm thank you.

My breakfast never touched the sides. But when the bill came, I dipped into my jacket pocket to get my leftover change from the night before, and the entire scenario flashed before my eyes in slow-mo as it dawned on me I’d handed the old lady my own money. Thankfully, the owner of the cafe had seen me unwittingly fleece myself, and let me have the £5.95 breakfast for free.

Write me a poem about Whispering

What’s she saying? I can’t quite hear.
Is it something about Richard Gere?
Or maybe she’s wishing me Happy New Year?
Or is she talking of King Lear?
Or that I need a new career?
Or inviting me to Martin Mere?
I wish she’d come a little more near.
But really don’t want to interfere.
Oh no, she’s about to shed a tear.
It’s okay, ma’am, please don’t fear.
There’s really nowt to cry about here.
Then suddenly her words are abundantly clear.
“You’re not allowed to drink that beer.”
“It’s a library mate.”

Who would win in a fight, Colonel Sanders or Ronald McDonald?

Sanders, with a savage uppercut from nowhere. The Colonel’s full name is actually Harland David Sanders (Google it). Gotta stick with the Fam haven’t you?

Write me three straplines for:

1) The ‘Ban the Sausage’ Campaign (fronted by Gareth Malone and Dizzee Rascal)
Own wurst nightmare

2) The Museum of Political Incorrectness
Where the fossils have mouths

3) Gove’s Miracle Cream (cures halitosis, piles, memory loss and much more)
Level-up your life (you little peasant)

What was your nickname at school?

Infants: Tank
Seniors: Harly/Harls

Right, Tank, draw me a picture of crabs hanging around the school gates trying to look tough (yes I know you’re a writer, but do it anyway).

Copywriting is like defusing a bomb in the dark, discuss.

Since 72% of clients don’t know what they want until they see it, and 86% of briefs aren’t worth the bog paper they’re printed on, and 104% of copy is totally subjective, much of the craft is based around a clumsy, sweaty fumble in the dark. And on occasion, it blows your face off.

Snog, marry, boil in salad cream: Captain America / Captain Morgan / Captain Kirk

I’ll boldly go with a Captain Kirk smooch.
I’ll marry Captain America so he could always protect me.
And I’d boil Captain Morgan in salad cream to make his rum even spicier.

What is love?

Love is watching Mean Girls for the first time with your wife (who’s seen it about a hundred and seventy times) knowing that even a glance down at your phone during the 1 hour and 37 minute ordeal could result in a very frosty rest-of-the-evening.

Pick a random pic from your camera roll and tell us about it.

I received what can only be described as a very underloved poached egg as part of a Full English in an unnamed Liverpool bistro just before Christmas. Seeing my disappointment, the waiter immediately apologised for it. But rather than send it back, I built this haute cuisine creation: A pathetic of poached egg atop a lazy triangulation of brownhash, loyally guarded by a single mean bean at each 60-degree corner.

Write me a very short story featuring: A nun with nunchucks, a tiny man in a mini van and a talking stick insect.

“One pound fifty for a Peperami? How do you sleep at night?” said little Gary, peering over the petrol station counter while paying for his diesel. “I’m not arsed mate,” replied the teenage checkout assistant, as she flicked to the next page of Hello magazine, a big double spread about what Irish pop stars B*Witched keep in their fridge. Gary had just done a middle-of-the-night airport pickup, dropping a family of five back home after a fortnight in Majorca, and he was uncharacteristically grouchy because their plane had been delayed and he’d had to wait in a lay-by for an hour and a half.

His grouchiness continued as he got back into his mini-van, and was blocked in by a blue Nissan Micra at the pump ahead of him. One minute passed. Then two. Then three. HONNNNNNNNK. Gary’s patience had run out. So out he jumped, and marched up to the Micra’s driver side. “Eh love are you gonna be here all day or what?” he asked, stopping short of rattling on the window because he’d noticed something rather untoward.

Sitting in the driver’s seat was a nun, eyes closed, muttering words Gary couldn’t quite make out. Words he’d never heard before. She was clutching a pair of rosary beads in her right hand, and what looked like a policeman’s truncheon in her left. But sensing Gary’s presence, she stopped what she was doing. Stunned silence for what felt like ten or eleven seconds. Then suddenly, her face swiveled towards the door and her eyelids flung open as she fixed a gaze on Gary. She wasn’t just looking at him, she was looking through him.

A great chill flooded Gary’s body, as she slowly opened her car door, revealing that the truncheon in her left hand was connected to another truncheon with a chain. They were nunchucks. This was no ordinary nun. This was a ninja nun. With fully black eyeballs. And before Gary could apologise, or escape, she was on him like a hungry baboon. Garrotting him with the rosary beads, while simultaneously smashing his groin, then his head, then his groin, then his head, then his groin again with the nunchucks, this ninja nun had murder in mind.

But just before Gary breathed his last, she released him, and as his tiny exhausted body slammed against the concrete floor of the garage forecourt, she fled into a nearby thicket. It was half an hour before he regained consciousness, and as his mangled little mind tried to comprehend what had happened, police began taking a statement. Quite bizarrely, he claimed that he’d been talked back into consciousness by a stick insect that was lying next to his face as he hit the ground. But the CCTV recording confirmed that it wasn’t a stick insect. It was a Peperami that had been dropped by a truck driver 90 minutes earlier.

When police told him this, a still-dazed Gary replied: “One pound f***ing fifty!”

Make my skin crawl.

Jacob Rees-Mogg doing the limbo in a pair of Speedos.

Uuuuurgh! Now make my heart melt.

When penguins huddle together to stay warm in the sub-zero Antarctic winter, they take it in turns to sing a lullaby.

Write me dictionary definition entries for ‘Wilcock’s Lexicofantabulous Compendium of Oddities and Soddities’:

1) Yamberry
A sour yellow bollock-shaped fruit with hallucinogenic properties when catapulted.

2) Noffulent
The state of being perennially skint despite earning twice the average annual salary.

3) Dipsy’s side entrance
A secret door in all of Stoke-On-Trent’s pubs which opens from dusk til dawn every Tuesday.

If you were alone on a desert island for a month, what 6 items would you take with you? (they have to fit in a Morrison’s bag for life and yes, you can keep the bag).

• A size-5 Mitre Delta casey
• A magic set
• Some earplugs in case I encounter some Sirens
• All the Mister Men books
• 400g Hellman’s mayonnaise
• Matches

Make up your own question and tell me whatever you want to get off your chest.

If you’re at a restaurant with a friend, is it wise or unwise to order the same thing as them?

It is unwise. When a chef cooks two different menu items, each dish demands the same meticulous level of care and attention, with the ingredients needing to be measured correctly, cooking times tracked precisely, and both finished with a pretty garnish. Bon appetite. However, when a chef cooks two of the same dishes at once, they slapdashedly just double the usual ingredients required for a single dish, cook the food with zero love, and dollop halvesies onto the two plates at the very end, tutting throughout the whole process. Presumably.

Give me three reasons why I should let you go.

My clients need words
My boy needs food
My mouth needs beer

And before I remove the outsize thumbscrews, tell us where we can find you online.


Right, gertcha! And take those massive fingers with you!

Want to hear more Copywriter squeals? Copywriters on the rack #27: Andrew Boulton